Requirements for a Master's in Computer Science

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the type of coursework and other requirements you'll need to fulfill to graduate with your master's degree in computer science.

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Earning your master’s degree in computer science typically requires completing general coursework, elective coursework, and opting to either produce a thesis or fulfill a non-thesis option that may involve research and a capstone project. 

In this article, we’ll go over what it takes to earn a master’s in computer science, as well as the major prerequisites most programs expect from applicants. 

Requirements for a CS master’s degree

In the United States, the common requirements for completing a master’s degree in computer science include completing a set number of course credits (anywhere from 30 to 60 credits, depending on the program), producing a thesis or capstone project, and fulfilling other factors around timeliness and residency. Let’s review each one. 


As a computer science master’s degree student, you can expect to take a combination of core courses and elective courses. Core courses are meant to build an advanced understanding of major computer science topics, while elective courses allow you to develop more specialized knowledge in a subset of computer science, such as machine learning, data science, or networks and systems. 

While each department’s coursework requirements will likely differ, you can expect to take advanced core courses in some or all of the following: 

  • Software engineering

  • Data science

  • Data mining

  • Cloud computing

  • Operating systems 

  • Hardware systems

  • Network security 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) 

  • Applications

  • Files and databases

The elective courses you take will depend on the areas your program offers because not all computer science master’s programs offer the same concentrations. It’s important to review the available curriculum for each program and make sure it aligns with what you’d like to get out of your graduate degree. 

Common concentrations include: 

  • Computer systems

  • Software engineering

  • Data science

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning

  • Cybersecurity

Learn more: Is a Master’s Degree in Computer Science Worth It?

Thesis vs. non-thesis track 

Depending on the program you’re interested in attending, you may have to complete a thesis in order to graduate. Some programs offer students the option to complete a non-thesis track, which tends to require completing a capstone project to show that they’ve developed the necessary technical and critical thinking skills. 

Timeliness and adequate progress

When you attend a master’s degree full-time, you can expect to finish your program in about two years. Part-time students will take longer. That being said, most US programs stipulate a time limit to earning your degree—usually around five years. 

You must also show adequate progress toward earning your degree, meaning that you may not be able to take a fall or spring semester off unless you request a formal leave of absence. This most often applies to in-person master’s programs. You’ll find that online master’s degrees in computer science are often much more flexible and self-paced, so you can work through your coursework as you’re able. 

Residency requirement

When you attend an in-person master’s degree program, you may have to fulfill a residency requirement, which means completing a certain number of coursework hours at least partially on campus. Each university's requirements can differ, so make sure to review each program you’re interested in attending for more information.

If relocating to pursue a master’s degree is not an ideal option, consider exploring an online master’s degree in computer science. Many do not have a residency requirement. 

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Applying for a master’s in computer science

Because of the technical nature of studying computer science at an advanced level, many programs set subject requirements for potential applicants. This may mean that you need to show proof, through your transcripts, of having taken and passed certain courses during your bachelor’s degree program in computer science. For other programs, it may mean that you only need to know certain subjects, like a programming language and calculus, in order to do the work. It’s important to check the graduate admission requirements for each program you’re interested in attending so you can determine whether you qualify. Some graduate degree programs in computer science offer the chance to enroll in bachelor’s level coursework to complete any outstanding prerequisites. 

Learn more: Can You Go to Graduate School for a Different Major?

Graduate admission requirements: Computer science

Beyond the subject knowledge you will likely have to demonstrate, there are two main requirements for applying to a graduate program in computer science: 

  • Bachelor’s degree: Many master’s degree programs require you to have earned your bachelor’s degree in order to embark on a graduate education. 

  • GPA: Master’s degree programs often expect applicants to have a minimum GPA from their bachelor’s degree program—usually 3.0, but it can be higher for certain schools. 

Applying to graduate school often means pulling together materials that include a resume, letter of intent (sometimes called a personal statement), transcripts, letters of recommendation, and graduate entrance exams like the GRE or GMAT. Check with each computer science program you’re interested in attending for specific details. 

On Coursera, many top universities offer performance-based admission. These master’s degree programs ask you to show your subject knowledge by taking and passing three pathway courses. There’s no formal application—or previous bachelor’s degree—required.



What can you do with a master’s in computer science?

Earning a master’s degree often means you may qualify for a number of more advanced roles than you may be able to find with a bachelor’s degree. The same holds true for computer science. A master’s degree can lead to higher salaries as well as the opportunity to pursue senior-level roles in the field, such as: 

Job titleAverage annual US salary*
Computer and information systems manager$89,418
Senior Computer systems analyst$121,475
Computer and information research scientist$136,620**
Senior cybersecurity engineer$140,569
Data scientist$143,997
Database architect$181,958

*All salary data from Glassdoor (September 2023) unless otherwise noted

**Median annual US salary in 2022 (per US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Beyond exact titles, a master’s degree is an opportunity to specialize in one of the high-demand areas within the larger field of computer science, such as machine learning, data science, and cybersecurity. Pursuing not only this knowledge but also the credential verifying it can help you stand out from other applicants. 

Earn a degree in computer science through Coursera

Explore whether a master's in computer science is right for you by getting started with a course. If you enjoy what you’re learning, you can keep going before gaining full admission to certain master’s degree programs on Coursera. That’s all thanks to performance-based admission, which asks you to show what you know by taking and passing a series of pathway courses. Learn more:

An infographic that says: A university degree built for you. From respected institutions with world-class faculty. Enjoy flexible scheduling and self-paced coursework. Priced below $20,000 USD

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.